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Zero Bias – A CQ Editorial

It's More Fun When You Make It


*e-mail: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Slime. Nope, no political discussions this month… the slime in this case was real, and it was the subject of a recent morning TV news show segment that caught my eye. The segment featured four young girls — probably in fifth or sixth grade — mixing up nice gooey slime using a combination of Elmer's® glue, borax, and a couple of other ingredients. As it started to take shape, one of the co-hosts interjected, "Have you ever heard of Silly Putty®?"

"Yes," answered one of girls as she mixed up her glob of goo.

"It's pretty much the same stuff," the host said. "Why don't you just buy it?"

"It's more fun when you make it," she replied. About a week earlier, I spent some time with a family member who's a physics professor at a major university in the Midwest. We were discussing ham radio and the resurgent interest among hams in building their own gear. He was very pleased to hear about that aspect of the hobby, since he said it was getting harder and harder to get his students interested in picking up a soldering iron and learning to actually build something rather than simply learning to use things that someone else had built.

So here are a few societal questions: How has the spirit of "It's more fun when you make it" gotten lost somewhere between elementary school and college? Especially among girls? Is that trend ongoing? And now can we hams help turn it around?

Young people are naturally curious. They want to learn about the world around them. They want to learn how to do things and make things. Unfortunately, many schools have unintentionally stifled that natural curiosity in efforts to maintain or improve standardized test scores. But there are signs of change, first of all in growing resistance to high-stakes standardized testing, and more importantly, multiple efforts by schools and community groups to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math) subjects with fun and meaningful activities.

For example, we are aware of a high school in New Jersey that offers a "Technical Design" course in which students learn, among other things, to build and test circuits, including an introduction to soldering. For more than 25 years, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has been sponsoring mentor-based robotics and LEGO competitions around the world, currently involving over 450,000 students and more than 100,000 adult mentors. The ARRL is promoting a rebirth of amateur radio clubs on college campuses, and community ham radio clubs have opportunities to partner with local STEM/STEAM programs to help provide community support and mentorship.

On an individual basis, we need to devote time at home to helping nurture our children's and grandchildren's natural curiosity and helping them learn how to make things that might be easier to just buy, for the fun, adventure and satisfaction of building/doing it yourself … even if it means occasionally prying them away from their video games.

There continues to be a gender imbalance in science/math-focused ideas once kids reach the high school level, although we are seeing improvements there as well. Change in societal attitudes — such as the belief that math and science just aren't things that girls or women "do" — occurs slowly, and it may take another generation or two for the concept of girls and young women excelling in science and math to become fully accepted. Again, though, we can make a point within our own families of encouraging interest in science and math (and ham radio) among our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.

What else can we hams do to help? Well, we're glad to see that our friends in Newington have finally discovered Makers. An item in the March 23 ARRL Letter is titled, "ARRL Seeking Synergy With Maker Movement," and says the League "is reaching out to members of the Maker movement to explore avenues of cooperation and collaboration, and perhaps to recruit some new radio amateurs."

Of course, we've been singing that tune for at least five years now, with regular features and columns devoted to building equipment and to building relationships with Maker groups. One thing the ARRL apparently hasn't caught up with yet is the fact that building your own gear is one of the hottest growth areas in amateur radio today, as the same news item notes that "(t)he philosophy of the Maker movement is reminiscent of an era when radio amateurs built their own equipment rather than buying it off the shelf." Obviously, no one up there has been to a QRP convention "buildathon" recently, or to any of the growing number of club building nights. We'd like to suggest that some of the Newington crowd drop in on the "Four Days in May" QRP gathering before and during the Dayton Hamvention®.

Nonetheless, we strongly support any efforts, new or ongoing, to engage with Maker groups and to integrate ham radio into their activities. Many Makers recognize hams as "the original Makers" and are pleased to add an analog/RF dimension to their otherwise mostly digital-based activities. I've certainly found that to be the case with my local Maker group, and I've heard similar reports from many others. The ARRL has far greater resources than we do to devote to any organized effort, so we welcome them in joining us, even if they are "late to the party." Now get out there and make something! More importantly, encourage and help a young person to get out there and make something, even if it's slime! Because … get ready now … "It's more fun when you build it!"

– 73, Rich, W2VU

PS: The CQ WPX CW contest weekend is this month. I'm writing this just after the SSB weekend and want to report that there is still life on 15 and 10 meters — mostly north-south, of course, but there are plenty of prefixes to be worked in Central and South America, so don't assume that the higher bands will be dead. We hope to see many of you this month in Dayton/Xenia.

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